Thursday, February 11, 2010

Extended Biography of Dr. Del Tackett

Extended Biography of Dr. Del Tackett

Personal transformation through personal encounter with the living God – that’s the heart and soul of Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project ®. It’s also, in an important sense, the life-story of The Truth Project’s chief architect and major spokesman, Dr. Del Tackett. For while Del doesn’t lack formal academic credentials, it’s the experiential aspect of his knowledge that best qualifies him to act as mentor and tour-guide to those seeking a deeper walk with Christ and a more accurate understanding of the Christian worldview. He knows firsthand what it means to encounter the life-changing power of God in a deeply personal way. Born in Texas and brought up on a farm in Blackfoot, Idaho, Del remembers vividly how it felt to grow up Protestant in a solidly Mormon community. It was difficult at times, but he found ways to overcome the feelings of marginalization that go along with being the “odd man out.” Sustained emotionally by a solid relationship with his dad, he excelled in sports and academics, so that by the time he entered high school he had achieved a healthy measure of social respectability among his peers. Church, too, provided him with opportunities to “become somebody.” An active member of the Methodist youth group, he assumed leadership roles at both the local and regional levels.

During the latter part of his high school career, Del was selected to participate in “Boys State,” an American Legion program designed to give top Idaho students hands-on experience in the mechanics of state government. He thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and was eventually invited to take part in the federal version of the same exercise, “Boys Nation,” in Washington, D. C. But it was precisely at this moment of youthful triumph that God – as Del tells the story – pulled the rug out from under him for the first time. He returned home from D. C. to find the house empty and the farm packed up. His father’s employer, Phillips Petroleum, had lost its Idaho contract. The family was moving to Kansas City. That was the summer between Del’s Junior and Senior years. Just when he should have been riding on top of the world, he was suddenly reduced to the status of the “new kid on the block.” And that wasn’t the worst of it. Shortly after the move, his parents were divorced. As a result, Del was saddled with the responsibility of caring for his mother, who had grown mentally unstable as a result of her marital difficulties. It was one of the most difficult periods of his entire life. Spiritually, as in every other area of existence, he shifted into “survival” mode.

Things took an upward turn when he enrolled in the local junior college, where he met and dated his future wife, Melissa. After a temporary separation, during which she attended college in southwest Missouri and he completed a degree in computer science at Kansas State University, the two were married in August of 1972. It seemed like a season for putting down roots and making long-range plans. But God had other ideas. When Del drew a number-one slot in the draft-lottery – the war in Vietnam was escalating at the time – he immediately enrolled in a two-year Air Force ROTC program. Then, after graduating from Kansas State, earning his pilot’s license, completing a year of graduate school in the field of artificial intelligence, and receiving his commission, it was off to Reese AFB, Texas for pilot training –what the Air Force calls the “Fifty-Two Weeks of Hell.”

Hell or no hell, Del had a feeling that he was on the right track again. Not only were pilots badly needed at this stage in the war, but a pilot, as everyone knew, was an extremely significant person, and significance was something Del had been seeking ever since his days as a basketball star in Blackfoot. As the difficult weeks of the program progressed, the thrill of flying a fighter jet began to get into his blood. He enjoyed the camaraderie of his classmates and, like them, looked forward with great expectations to the eventuality of earning his wings and assuming control of his own plane.

But it was not to be. An old high school football injury raised its ugly head at an inopportune moment, and Del was permanently grounded. Once again his world was turned topsy-turvy, his ambitions shattered, his dream at an end. It was beginning to feel like a pattern. Hope, however, springs eternal; and in God’s economy, the darkest times do tend to come just before the dawn. Assigned to the chapel as a “holding duty” while the Air Force decided what to do with him, Del gradually became aware of new stirrings in the depths of his soul. He couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t believed in God and didn’t love the Bible; and yet somehow, as he carried out his duties as a chaplain, he began to realize that this heartfelt, childlike faith had never been connected with a clear intellectual grasp of the Christian Gospel and its implications for every area of human life. All that began to change during the remainder of the Tacketts’ stay in Lubbock.

It was in Lubbock, in 1973, that Del got involved with a home-based small group sponsored by the Officers Christian Fellowship. There he had an opportunity to see his Wing Commander, a powerful and important man, down on his knees, praying earnestly and humbly to the Lord and Master of his soul. The experience impacted the young officer at a deep level. As a result, his heart knowledge began to link up with his head knowledge for the very first time. By degrees, he began to understand exactly what Christ had done for him on the cross. Thus it came about that in Lubbock, in an empty cotton field, Del Tackett walked out under the sky and told the Lord that he wanted to appropriate that sacrifice for himself in all of its power and significance. It was a point of no return.

Transferred from Lubbock to Montgomery, Alabama, Del and Melissa began attending a Bible study group where they were introduced to the Reformed Faith for the first time. By 1978 Del’s progress in the spiritual life, particularly in the area of integrating the practical and intellectual aspects of Christianity, was skyrocketing. He had come to a point where, as he puts it, he simply couldn’t get enough of God and His Word. Entering into the first of the many spiritual “cocoons” that would mark his relationship with the Lord throughout the coming years, he wrestled with the implications of God’s character as El Qanna, the Jealous God, Jehovah Shalom, the God of Peace, and Jehovah Jireh, the Provider God. This experience, along with his reading of J. I. Packer’s Knowing God – the book that, next to the Bible, has influenced his life most profoundly – produced in him a solid conviction that all truth flows from the nature of God. Only as we gaze upon His face, Del realized, can we begin to understand who we are and how the vastly varied details of creation can be integrated into a meaningful whole.

Throughout the course of a twenty-year career in the Air Force, this zeal for learning and growing in Christ never abated. In time, it received expression in a passion for teaching. Del’s gifts as a communicator found an outlet not only at church, where he taught countless Sunday School classes and Bible studies, but also on the professional level: as a Master Instructor in computer science at Shepherd Air Force Base, he had innumerable opportunities to overcome his innate shyness and hone his skills as an effective speaker. Appointed vice commander at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base, Del was eventually called upon to serve at the White House under President George H. W. Bush as director of technical planning for the National Security Council. In more ways than one, this unexpected development proved to be another instance of God’s sovereign intervention in his life. It was during his tenure in Washington that Del entered into one of the most formative of his personal spiritual “cocoons.” Through constant exposure to the thought of America’s founders, as inscribed on the walls of our national monuments, enshrined in our foundational documents, and preserved in the writings of the Pilgrim fathers, he was struck with a fresh realization that the United States had indeed been built upon a series of assumptions regarding values and truth – an a priori notion that God has given us truth-claims in every area of life. So far-reaching were the implications of this insight that they changed the course of his life. Somehow it seemed that everything suddenly “clicked” and made sense. Once again Del felt God tapping him on the shoulder and pushing him in a new direction. He left Washington with the intention of developing more effective ways of sharing his discoveries with others. Returning to Colorado Springs, he was quickly caught up in a plan to launch a new theological seminary. The vision motivating him and his associates in this endeavor was simple but powerful. Their goals were 1) to create a program of study calculated specifically to instill a genuine love for God and a burning zeal for His truth in the hearts and minds of their students; and 2) to explore creative methods of taking theological education out of the “ivory tower” of academia and into the “field” of hands-on ministry.

New Geneva Theological Seminary, originally conceived as a branch of Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was inaugurated in 1992. Del Tackett, certified by Knox’s Board of Directors (which included among its members Dr. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church), became one of the new school’s chief instructors. Employing an “apprenticeship model” of education, Del and his colleagues set out to provide ministerial candidates with opportunities to sharpen their practical skills in a local church setting while simultaneously fulfilling academic requirements through an online/interactive CD-ROM degree program. Alongside the standard Masters of Divinity program, they mapped out a course of study for a new Masters in Religion and Society, a degree aimed to equip teachers, legislators, judges, and lawyers with the theological tools they would need in order to address social and cultural issues from a biblical point of view.

The core of the Religion and Society curriculum was a two-semester survey of “Worldview Studies,” a course developed almost entirely by professor Tackett and supplemented with a series of individual courses designed to bring a more intensive focus to the specific subject areas covered in the survey – for example, “Social Order” or “The Philosophy of Science.” To this day, Del speaks with great warmth about the joy of watching the light go on in his students’ faces when the full implications of the Christian worldview dawned upon them. “You could visibly see it,” he says. “It usually came at some point during the second semester, and it was absolutely delightful to behold.” At such moments he was overwhelmed with a deep sense of satisfaction. Lives were being transformed before his very eyes. He had discovered God’s calling for his life at last.

But once again, the Lord had something else in mind. The road was about to take another sharp turn. Just when everything seemed to be falling into place according to plan, the Board of Directors in Fort Lauderdale threw the team in Colorado Springs an unexpected curve. They “cut the umbilical cord,” so to speak, setting New Geneva free to function as an independent institution. Unfortunately, New Geneva had no funding, no support, and no license to teach.
That was 1998. It was the beginning of another very difficult period in Del’s life. He had invested himself heart and soul in the ministry of New Geneva Seminary, particularly in the Worldview Studies course and the Masters in Religion and Society program. He was determined to bring his vision to fruition – in spite of the fact that New Geneva didn’t even have the means to meet payroll.

That’s when Del received a call from Charlie Jarvis, Executive Vice President at Focus on the Family. Charlie was leaving Focus to manage Gary Bauer’s 2000 presidential campaign, and he had very definite ideas about choosing his successor. “I think God is calling you to take my place,” he said. “I want to discuss it with you over lunch.” Del’s response was an unequivocal no. He was absolutely committed to the program he’d pioneered at New Geneva. Difficulties and uncertainties notwithstanding, he still believed in the dream. He wasn’t about to let it die. But he accepted the lunch invitation anyway – primarily as a favor to an old friend. Long story short: through a series of painful and trying events – events that Del describes in terms of “the chastening of the Lord” (Proverbs 3:11, 12) – he was eventually persuaded to accept Jarvis’s offer. But not without a great deal of personal anguish. At one point in the process, he found himself shaking his fist at God and shouting, “I didn’t ask for this!” The Lord’s response? “That’s right. You didn’t ask for this. So just think about it.” Suddenly Jesus’ words in Gethsemane came back to him with the force of a ton of bricks falling on his head: “Not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).

It was another crossroads. Del had to admit that he could not go forward until he was willing to lay everything on the altar: his will, his desires, his zeal for the Religion and Society program, and his deep concern for the financially floundering seminary. “You’ll have to let all that go,” God said. “New Geneva is My problem, not yours.” So Del left New Geneva and assumed a new position at Focus on the Family – an administrative position that had nothing to do with teaching and theological education. The dream had died. For the next two years, Del Tackett, ever the dutiful military man, diligently fulfilled the role of a Focus on the Family Executive Vice President. He believed wholeheartedly in the mission of the organization. He enjoyed the company of his associates in ministry. He was content in the knowledge that he was in the right place at the right time, serving God where God wanted him to serve. But he saw no indication whatsoever – not the faintest glimmer of an inkling – that his work at Focus could ever be linked in any way with the vision he’d left behind.

Then one day Ron Wilson, Focus’s Vice President of Human Resources, came knocking at his door. “I understand you used to do some teaching in the area of Christian Worldview,” said Ron. “In particular, I’m told that your course included some material on the biblical view of work. I think our employees could benefit from a presentation on that subject.” Del tried to beg off. A course of that nature would require a tremendous amount of preparation, he protested. Given his present responsibilities, he simply didn’t have time to pull it off. But Ron was persistent; and in the end his persistence paid off. Del presented several lectures on the Christian in the Sphere of Labor for Focus on the Family’s executive staff. He followed those lectures with a similar series of talks for the management staff. It wasn’t long before the light he had seen in the eyes of the students at New Geneva started appearing in the faces of his fellow Focus staffers. Testimonies of altered attitudes and changed lives began filtering back to him from those who had heard his talks. Once again, things were beginning to “click.” Jim Daly, Focus’s current President, a junior executive at the time, became a solid advocate for Christian Worldview studies at Focus on the Family. Eventually, Don Hodel, Dr. James Dobson’s first successor in the role of Focus’s CEO, came to Del with a plea and a proposal. “This material is simply too good to be kept hidden under a bushel,” he said. “We simply have to find a way to get it out to a broader audience.” It didn’t take Del long to realize what was happening. The surprising, serendipitous, and sovereign hand of God was at work once again. Who could have predicted that it would move in quite this way? Del’s intensive course in Christian Worldview studies – the course that New Geneva Seminary had been financially unable to support – was about to be picked up by a well established, widely supported, and fiscally healthy ministry, an organization of worldwide reputation. The dream had been resurrected.

But Del maintained his commitment to the original vision. “This isn’t something we can turn into a product or resource,” he told Don. “A book or a video won’t do it. What we’re talking about here is the possibility of transforming people at a very deep personal level.” The solution? An interactive curriculum, captured on video, but fleshed out within the context of small-group discussion: Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project ®. The rest, as they say, is history. About the time the decision to undertake production of The Truth Project was made, Dr. Del Tackett left his position as Executive Vice President and became President of the Focus on the Family Institute. Filming of the twelve DVD installments began shortly afterwards and was completed in mid-2006. The Project launched in May of that year with a series of Training Conferences, held in a number of selected cities across the United States. And The Truth Project has been generating excitement and enthusiasm all over the country ever since.

It is worth adding that, as a professor, Dr. Tackett has taught more than thirty undergraduate and graduate courses at three different institutions over a twelve-year period. He holds three earned degrees (D.M., Colorado Technical University; M.S., Auburn University; B.S., Kansas State University) and is an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.

He and his wife Melissa have four grown children and reside in Colorado Springs.


Diane said...

Thank you, Dr. Tackett, for letting God take the steering wheel. When He navigates, our Lord takes us on incredible, mysterious journeys we never could have imagined. They are spiritual thrill rides. My husband has been showing the Truth Project to various groups; I can't thank you enough for this series and the "simplistic intensity" to which my own personal faith has grown. Your life story is equally inspiring. Again, thank you.
Diane Johnson

sh said...

Thanks for commenting Diane. You may want to contact Dr Tackett personally to say what you said here. If you google his name i'm certain you can find a way to do that.